A Clockwork River
by J.S. Emery
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Pub Date 07 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2021
Head of Zeus, Ad Astra Book
A sister searches for her missing brother as a new power rises amid the splendour and the squalor of a once great city.
Lower Rhumbsford is a city far removed from its glory days. On the banks of the great river Rhumb, its founding fathers channelled the river's mighty flow into a subterranean labyrinth of pipes, valves and sluices, a feat of hydraulic prowess that would come to power an empire. But a thousand years have passed since then, and something is wrong. The pipes are leaking, the valves stuck, the sluices silted. The erstwhile mighty Rhumb is sluggish and about to freeze over for the first time in memory.
In a once fashionable quarter of the once great city, in the once grand ancestral home of a family once wealthy and well-known, live the last descendants of the city's most distinguished engineer, siblings Samuel and Briony Locke.
Having abandoned his programme in hydraulic engineering, Samuel Locke tends to his vast lock collection, while his sister Briony distracts herself from the prospect of marriage to a rich old man with her alchemical experiments. One night Sam leaves the house carrying five of his most precious locks and doesn't come back...
As she searches for her brother, Bryony will be drawn into a web of ancestral secrets and imperial intrigues as a ruthless new power arises. If brother and sister are to be reunited, they will need the help of a tight-lipped house spirit, a convict gang, a club of antiques enthusiasts, a tribe of troglodytes, the Ladies Whist Club, the deep state, a traveling theatrical troupe and a lovesick mouse.
Epic, rollicking and in love with language, Jacob and Sara Emery's sprawling debut novel of humble kitchen magics and awe-inspiring civil engineering is a rare and delicious commodity – the world's first hydropunk novel.
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Average rating from 41 members
This is a quirky, adorably pompous fantasy novel set in a decaying 1800s-like plumbing extravaganza world. There is something lavish about the setting, extremely funny, that reminded me of the Monty Python and Terry Pratchett. and is very well crafted. It hints so much to classic comedy plays, where people keep crossing by each other on stage mistaking each other's identity and meaning. The narrator is exterior to the novel and yet has a huge amount of personality and ego, judging everything and giving so much colour to this novel.
The writing style is a real pleasure to read, and the way everything is built up into a culminating point, all the vastly extended threads drawn together like a net, all interlinked is extremely satisfying.
We follow the adventure of the very impoverished Locke family, from the lock and key obsessed son, to the beautiful daughter who fears marriage so much she spends her time cooking up poisons and love potions, to the terribly narcistic father who only lives for his appearance. They each find themselves upturned into escalating dangers from which you can't even guess how they will escape.... and I will give no hints as to where this goes because that is the best part of this book.
I have never read anything quite like it and really enjoyed this smart confident new voice. I will recommend it to people who are not afraid of large books and enjoy both classics and fantasy. There is something of Jules Vernes and Shakespeare in this. If you loved the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde this might be just the clever fun book for you.
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